Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The Little Things

From Ridley

Little Ways to Save Energy

Keeping in mind that this blog is really about writing, I'm going to veer off onto the soft shoulder and take a right to: Ways to Save Energy. Consider this my green blog.

As a kid, the book that had the most profound effect on me was Cheaper By The Dozen. My recollection is that the protagonist, having had 12 children, had to find a way to make the most use of his time. He became a student of efficiency, learning to button his shirt in a certain direction because it was faster than the other, learning to make the most of his time. At that age I had not given much thought to such efficiencies, and it struck me that they made sense on a lot of levels. Decades later, I would become friends with the author Robert Fulghum, who, one morning on a camping trip, saw me shaving and came up behind me to give me a lesson in behavior. As it turns out, we nearly always start and stop our shaving from the same location and shave in the same general pattern. We wash ourselves in the shower in basically the same pattern each time we shower. So much of our mechanical lives are little repetitions of identical patterns, day-to-day, week to week, month-to-month. Because of all this, I've been paying more attention to my daily routine in terms of energy.

I remind myself to turn off light switches as I leave rooms, to turn the water off while I'm brushing my teeth, to keep my showers at a reasonable length in the water at a reasonable temperature, and all these little things that add up to a slightly greener lifestyle. But in the midst of all this self observation, I've realized there are some bigger issues, some bigger ideas that if practiced by thousands or hundreds of thousands would actually make quite a bit of difference. Hopefully they aren't things you would think about, but maybe by reading about them here you will from now on.


I happen to be one of the two cooks in our family. So I stand my fair share of time in front of the range. When a certain member of our family boils water -- she shall go nameless -- she puts water in the pot, put the pot on the stove, and turns the heat on high. The water boils. The food goes in the boiling water, it cooks, and later it is served. There is a fallacy to this method: water boils at 212°, but once boiling requires very few degrees of heat to continue boiling. Therefore once you get a pot of water boiling, turn it down, and turn it down again until you reach that point where it just maintains its boil. Believe it or not, this will save a lot of gas or electricity depending on your range top. It's a simple thing to do, and over the years (multiplied by many, many of us doing it) it could actually save a lot of carbon based energy.

Likewise, the oven... Ovens reach a pre-heat temperature. We account for that pre-heat time, and often waste it (nothing is in the oven during pre-heat). But we don't think about cool down time. In fact, if you're attentive, depending on how well insulated your oven is, you can shut the oven off ten to fifteen minutes BEFORE the recipe calls for. It will continue to cook just fine, but you'll have saved that 10 minute piece of energy. It's the little stuff that makes a difference...


Stay away from batteries. Batteries consume energy to be manufactured, must be charged, and pollute the landfill when they're through. Buy the AC charger for the device.


Hang your laundry out to dry once a week instead of using the dryer. Clothes dryers use huge amounts of energy for an hour at a time. By line-drying even one load a week (undies, socks, pillow cases) over a year's time you will save yourself money and the grid gobs of carbon based energy required to create that electricity consumed by the dryer.

Wall Warts

You know those black AC/DC converters that about a zillion devices now use? They never turn off. The "wall wart" continues sucking electricity 24/7 ready to supply the device the DC power when needed. A total waste of electricity. Buy a power strip and a light timer. Put the strip on the timer and the wart in the strip. Set the timer for the daylight or nighttime hours you actually use the device. Let it rest the remainder of the time.

Track Your Mileage

How much "efficiency" do you get out of your vehicle? Keep track of how you use your car. Could you wait an hour, a day, and combine one trip to make several errands? Could you drive a particular route to shorten the mileage to accomplish the same errands? Again: the little stuff.


There are new shower heads that wait to deliver water until the hot water comes up to temp. I haven't tried one, but they sound interesting. Then again: just take a cold shower--you probably need it after reading this.

Any other ideas? Post them here....


  1. Great ideas all, Ridley. Here's a shower technique I use in L.A. drought conditions. After getting wet, I turn off the shower while I soap up. The water comes back on to rinse.

    I remember growing up we didn't have a clothes dryer. In summer, the clothes hung on the line outside. They smelled good but were stiff as boards. In winter, we dried them over the oil-burning floor furnace.

  2. Last year, when we were in such a bad drought, we put a bucket in the tub and caught the water we usually wasted while the temperature came up to tolerable. We then used that water to flush the toilet.

    But cold showers? No. When I was in the service, I swore I would never take a hot shower for granted ever again. It is the last indulgence that will go.

  3. cold showers are NOT recommended... except as birth control.

  4. I am looking for my old t-shirt: "Save Water. Shower with a Friend."